While we're not ready to declare the dawn of a new era of progress on automotive issues in Washington, it is refreshing to see important federal policies on driver safety and zero-emission vehicles move forward after years of stagnation.
Among the more interesting provisions of the Senate's recently passed bipartisan infrastructure legislation are new mandates that will require automakers to install "lockouts" on all new vehicles intended to keep intoxicated drivers from operating them, as well as mandatory emergency collision prevention. Given the carnage that drunken and distracted drivers cause each year on America's roads, these mandates are just and overdue.
According to a Reuters report this month, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety said such technology could save 9,000 lives a year — nearly a quarter of the 38,680 who died in motor vehicle traffic crashes last year.
While we're wary of adding to record-high vehicle prices, it's important to remember that alcohol-related crashes cost the U.S. more than $44 billion annually, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
We would be remiss if we did not note that, with this provision, lawmakers are relying on technology to stop illicit behavior that neither law nor reason has yet contained. All we can say is that we hope it works.
As for global warming, the Biden administration's goal of 50 percent of U.S. new-car sales consisting of electric vehicles, plug-in hybrids and fuel cell vehicles by the end of the decade lacks the hard targets we've seen California, Europe and China use to cut pollutants. Environmentalists and EV advocates bemoaned the missed opportunity.
More important than Biden's symbolic gesture, however, were his orders to the EPA and NHTSA to undo the previous administration's rollback of fuel efficiency standards — and to establish aggressive targets for 2026 to 2028. If automakers are to meet the revised goals, they will need many more ZEVs — which they are working on anyway — to get there.
Safer roads, cleaner air and a more livable planet are all popular ideas, but in the real world of partisan politics, finding common ground or a clear path forward is all too rare. We're glad to see it where we can.